The 3 Islands Trail Race Recap
Two weeks ago I completed the brand new 3 islands trail race in Hong Kong. I would highly recommend this race as a unique way to experience the beautiful trails of Hong Kong and to challenge both your physical and mental fitness. You will also get to meet the city's dynamic and intimate trail running and hiking community. If possible, you should absolutely run this race with a friend or even a group of friends, because it would be selfish not to share the fun.
Before I move on with this blog post, I want to give a shout out to my running buddy Nelly Bruno and her friends for taking me under their wings and keeping me company throughout the 3i challenge. Race day morning I took a later ferry to Lamma Island and her group of friends were so kind to wait 30 minutes for me so we could run together. Thank you, Nelly! I also wish her husband Serge Bruno a speedy recovery from a nasty fall during the race. Hope to see the Bruno team come back stronger so we can enjoy more of these races soon.
So, let me give an overview of the 3 islands trail race. Runners get to experience 3 different trails on 3 islands in one day, covering a total of 31 km and 1750m of elevation. The race offers amazing views and unique aspects of three distinctive islands in Hong Kong. You will get a solid cardio and all-round full-body strength workout from running, hiking and climbing over a variety of terrains. The race starts with the wild and overgrown Lamma Island (11km/750m), followed by the open-air stair-master Hong Kong Island (10km/450m) and ends with a spectacular climb over Tigers Head on Lantau Island (10km/550m). The ferry rides between the islands offer an opportunity to rest up and to enjoy the views of Victoria Harbour as well as the pristine coastlines and beaches of the outlying islands.
In addition to the three-islands race, there is an option to run the two islands challenge (HK/ Lantau). There are also different combinations for solo runners, teams of two (male, female, mix), teams of three, and even a triple relay team suitable for families, friends and colleagues to join.
The 3i race is a semi self-supported race, there are no colour ribbons nor road markings on the course. All runners are given
route maps and GPX files to help with navigation Fortunately The GreenRace team have organised a recce to help runners familiarise with the routes and learn what to expect well ahead of race day. I have joined three recces with TGR (Tai Po, 3 islands and Pottinger) and would highly recommend especially for those who are new to trails. These recces are suitable for runners of all speeds and abilities, and completely free of charge. It is really helpful to get a preview of the race routes as well as a workout which trains the exact same muscles you will need on race day. As for the 3 Islands race, it is not a big deal even if you miss the recce, because on race day, the TGR team have positioned plenty of race marshals at exactly the right spots to guide runners. Honestly, it is impossible to get lost even if you are a map illiterate like me.
On race day, each runner collects a timing chip before catching the ferry to Lamma Island. The timing chip is scanned at the start and finish of each 10km trail race, then all the race times are aggregated at the end for ranking. The time taken to commute from one finish line to the next start line is not counted towards the total race time. Runners can take a later ferry or even stop for lunch if he or she wants to take a longer break, as long as they meet the cut-off times. The key cut-offs are: 1) catching the 11:55am ferry after #1 Lamma Island race to get to HK Island, 2) starting the #2 Hong Kong Island race by 1pm, and 3) catching the 4pm ferry to start #3 Lantau Island race.
For those who are unlucky to miss the 11:55 am ferry or unable to start the HK leg by 1pm, they have to skip HK, head straight to Lantau for the last leg and switch to a two islands challenge (Lamma + Lantau). For those who miss the 4pm ferry to Lantau will have to skip #3 race and head straight to finish line in Mui Wo to pick up their bags.
Race Day Itinerary
The above may seem confusing. Here is a possible itinerary for the day which hopefully clarifies a little.
7:00 am - Collect race timing chip and drop bag at Central Ferry Pier 4 on Hong Kong Island
7:30 am - Take ferry from Hong Kong Island to Yung Shue Wan, Lamma Island
8:00 am - Run #1 Lamma Island (starts at the pier)
11:15 am - Take ferry from Mo Tat Wan, Lamma Island to Aberdeen, Hong Kong Island
12:00 noon- Commute to #2 start line
12:30 pm - Run #2 Hong Kong Island, then take taxi to Central Ferry Pier 3 on Hong Kong Island
2:30 pm - Take ferry from Hong Kong Island to Discovery Bay on Lantau Island
3:00 pm - Run #3 Lantau Island (starts at the pier)
Finish race and pick up bags at the Finish Line in Mui Wo on Lantau Island
Thanks to the recce, I have run-walked the course on all three islands and know what to expect on trails. The recce definitely helps with my confidence and knowing what to pack for race day. The race prep concept is similar to road races except there is more of everything. The few top items in my mind are the weather (heat, humidity, rain), mosquitoes, overgrowing plants, hydration & nutrition, and terrain, particularly going down steep slopes, slippery rocks & stairs. I usually slap on SPF75 before I go running outside and I also carry a small tube of sunscreen. For insect repellent I make my own potions with eucalyptus lemon and lemongrass essential oils and top up with store-bought 21% picaridin spray. It usually holds up until I sweat it all off. To protect against spiky plants and razor-like leaves, I have long socks as well as arm sleeves.. I don't mind the cuts that much but I can get itchy as I am allergic to some of the plants. For hydration and nutrition, I have my hydration vest with - 2x500ml water bottles and another 300ml on my flip belt, 2 Tailwind sticks, chewable salt sticks, and a few superfood bars. In terms of shoes, I am not convinced by my Hoka Challenger but they are the only trail shoes I have. I don't know much about trail shoes and I don't think it is a big deal as I am still a very slow beginner on trails anyway. As for the steep terrain, I have invested in a pair of hiking poles, they are wonderfully lightweight. The problem is that I actually end up NOT using them at all for the 3i race because I just don't know how to use them.
Getting to Lamma Island
Race day morning I have a piece of bread with peanut butter, boiled egg and coffee for breakfast and grab a taxi to Central Ferry Pier 4 on Hong Kong Island. The race volunteers are already at the pier since 6am and it only takes two minutes to collect my timing chip and drop my bag. Then I take the 7:30 am ferry to Yung Shue Wan on Lamma Island which is roughly a 20 minutes ride. The #1 Lamma Island race start is only 200 meters from the pier on the side of the main street.
#1 Lamma Island
My friend Nelly and her friends are already waiting for me near the start as they have taken an earlier ferry. It is maybe another 20 meter walk up a small flight of stairs, then we are already at the start line waiting for our timing chips to be scanned. Lamma Island is the most challenging of all three races. TGR recommend beginners to sign up for the 2 islands challenge to cover HK and Lantau Islands only. I agree with them 100% because the Lamma Island trails are steep and at times you can only see a small gap in a sea of green vegetation that vaguely resembles a trail. I have considered dropping down to 2 islands challenge earlier in the week because of the heat. Fortunately the weather improves on race day, it is overcast and temperature drops to around 22C. I also feel a bit more confident as I am running with a group.
Tough and Rough with Overgrowth
The first half of Lamma Island is a mix of paved walks, gentle climbs and pretty views of the coast lines around the island. The second half is pretty tough, as the trail steepens and narrows with overgrowing plants. There is no choice but to press on and brush past the razor sharp leaves, thorny bushes and tree branches. At times I have to climb with all fours, hands grabbing onto the branches or rocks on the side. I get very close to sliding down on my backside a couple of times. I am sure the elites just fly or jump over these slopes like antelopes. It can be fun and exhilarating or outright scary depending on your fitness and experience. The last 2 to 3 kilometers are paved but there are A LOT of stairs. Despite the hard work, one thing you will appreciate is the stunning views from Lamma Island, which is beautiful and distinctive from what you can see from Hong Kong or Lantau Islands. I am not hot about climbing on all fours but I would do that trail again for those gorgeous views and refreshing breeze. We get to the finish line before 11am and have our timing chips scanned. The guys are much faster so I guess they have more time to enjoy the beach while they are waiting for us. We refill our water bottles at the refueling station by the beach and have a group photo before boarding the ferry to Aberdeen.
I am pleasantly surprised that we have time to spare before the 11:15 am ferry departure. During the recce two weeks prior to the race, I got seriously lost several times and only made it to the pier at 11:45am. I have been worried about missing the 11:55am ferry cut off time. I am so happy that TGR have done such an amazing job of placing lots of race marshals to keep runners on track. I didn't get lost one single moment on Lamma Island.
Getting to Hong Kong Island
The ferry ride to Hong Kong is so pleasant. I get a chance to rest up from a tough climb, hydrate and refuel a little bit on board. Once we get off the pier at Aberdeen, we stopped by a 7-11 store to grab a bite and top up our water bottles. After another kilometre of uphill walk, we get to the start line in Aberdeen Country Park ready for the second leg.
#2 - Hong Kong Island
The Hong Kong Island leg is the least technical of all three races as there is no climbing on all fours and no sliding on backside. The route is mostly paved or very neat trails. It is still physically demanding because of the stairs, the hills and the paved surfaces are tougher on the joints. There are prettier views from other parts of Hong Kong Island but it is a sensible route and distance to link up Lamma Island at one end and Lantau island at the other. Unfortunately HK island is my least favourite of the 3i race because my friend's husband Serge has a bad fall near the last stretch on Harlech Road. Of course it is an accident but it is still an unfortunate and unhappy experience. I really hope Serge recovers well and quickly.
We finish the second leg at around 2pm and have our chips scanned. Serge and Nelly gets into a taxi for home and the hospital and the rest of us continue with our journey to the Central Pier for the ferry to Discovery Bay on Lantau Island.
Getting to Lantau Island
We arrive at the Central Pier just before 230pm. We quickly buy some food at a convenience store in time to catch the 230pm ferry to Discovery Bay. The weather is starting to turn and there is a little bit of a drizzle. My phone battery is about half way and my Garmin is down to about 20%. I am glad I didn't forget to bring a charging cable and external battery for my watch. Then I eat, drink and try to get comfortable but the air conditioning on the ferry is definitely too cold for comfort. I can't wait to get running and warm again.
#3 Lantau Island - cancelled!
As it turns out, it doesn't really matter that my watch is charged because the race is cancelled by the time we reach the pier at Lantau Island. The weather system is coming in fast. The organisers tell us we will not be allowed to start the #3 race for safety reasons but we will get our times for 2/3 islands challenge. Meanwhile, the race marshals at Tigers Head are telling runners to turn around and head back to the start at Discovery Bay. Some runners are not comfortable going down the steep way back so they are allowed to carry on with the race as safely and quickly as possible. It is pity but it is definitely the right call to cancel because when a thunderstorm hits the city, it hits fast. At least we are not already halfway up the mountain having to navigate our way through the heavy rain and wind. Instead, we run-walk an easier and relatively shielded 6 km route to the finish line at Mui Wo. We need to pick up our bags. I also really want to claim my well-earned beer at the bar. As we reach the finish line, lots of people are already celebrating at the pub. The last ten or twenty runners who managed to start the race earlier are also coming through to the finish line. They look euphoric, it must feel pretty amazing to run all three islands and finish strong in the rain. I feel so happy for them.
Here is our group photo (missing Nelly and Serge), you can hardly tell it is raining because it looks so bright. It is a pity we miss #3 Lantau Island race. On the other hand, we have done plenty of work out for the day and our beer tastes just as rewarding. I am already thinking about the next 3i trail race, also hoping for better luck, nil accident, drier weather and faster (only slightly!) pacing.
What is the Lantau Island Leg Like
Here are a few pictures from the Lantau Island recce one week prior to the 3i race, which I did with Esther and Emy. Lantau is my favourite leg of the three races, you get a big climb to Tiger's Head/ Lo Fu Tau and then it's a smooth ride the rest of the way. You can see we have so much fun going up trails and fooling around.
On The Way Home
On my ferry ride back to Hong Kong Island, I write an quick email to my running coach Athena. "…I am still stinky and sweaty from the day but I already want to do this again next year. I am still hopeless getting down trails, I hate mosquitoes, the blazing sun, the heat and the blade-like plants cutting me through but I am starting to like trail more than road races."
Trail or Road
In truth, I don't know if I like trail or road races more. I still like road races and have two marathons coming up this year - Vietnam in August and New York City in November. And I am looking forward to my next trail race The Pottinger GreenRace on 18th May 2019.
If there is a race, there will be recap, so watch this space.
1. The 3 Islands Race
2. The GreenRace Hong Kong
3. The Pottinger GreenRace